Feds net guilty pleas in national scam that pumped out 7,600 phony nursing diplomas

Defendants face up to 20 years in prison, according to Department of Justice.

stethoscope and judgement hammer: © BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com

© BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com

Some defendants pleaded guilty to a scam that allegedly pumped out more than 7,600 bogus nursing degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

In January, DOJ announced “Operation Nightingale,” an investigation of three nursing schools that apparently were licensed in Florida but sold phony diplomas and transcripts to aspiring nurses who never completed required courses and clinicals. The nursing students allegedly paid $15,000 for the credentials.

The announcement came early in a year when polls of Medical Economics readers and members of other medical organizations predicted staffing concerns, including availability of nurses, would be among the top challenges of 2023. Since then, at least two reports have projected dire needs for nursing in health care systems, which is potentially good news for jobseekers but bad news for physicians and hospitals trying to fill open slots.

In the scam, was unclear if the nurses with fake diplomas worked directly in primary care. DOJ records indicated health care providers that hired them included a hospital in Georgia, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Maryland and New York, skilled nursing care facilities in Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, a rehabilitation facility in New York, an assisted living facility in New Jersey, and home health facilities in Massachusetts and Texas.

On May 15, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced five of “dozens” of defendants pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy for their parts in the scam. Each faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Pleading guilty were Krystal Lopez and Damian Lopez of Palm Beach County, Fla.; Francois Legagneur of Nassau County, N.Y.; Reynoso Seide of Union County, N.J.; and Yelva Saint Preux of Suffolk County, N.Y.

“The defendants all admitted to profiting from the scam,” according to DOJ. The alleged schemes dated from various times from April 2016 to October 2021, according to DOJ.

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